Authorities in Somalia say a U.S. drone strike on Thursday killed a high-ranking member of the Islamist terrorist group al-Shabab, hours before the country's leaders agreed on a plan for upcoming elections in which national security will be a major issue.
"U.S. Forces supporting Somali National Army (SNA) terminated a high-ranking member of the terrorist group [al-Shabab],” a Somali government statement issued Friday said.
The strike occurred near the southwestern Somali town of Kurtunwarey. It targeted al-Shabab while the group was preparing to launch an attack against Somali government forces, the statement released by government-run Radio Mogadishu said.
An unnamed senior member of the group’s local bomb-making and IED explosives unit was killed in the strike, VOA was told by a senior Somali commander who was not authorized to speak to the media.
U.S. forces in Africa also have confirmed the strike.
"In support of the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. forces use a range of effective and appropriate methods to assist in the protection of the Somali people,” said a statement posted by the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) on Twitter."
Together with partner and allied forces, U.S. Africa Command works on a daily basis to improve security conditions to enhance governance and economic development while preventing al-Shabab's desire to expand their reach and further export violence.”
With AFRICOM confirmation, American Military News reported that the target “had a history of making explosives” and was reportedly working to place improvised explosive devices on a public road near Kurtunwarey at the time of the strike.
The strike comes as the militant group is attempting to retake control of Kurtunwarey, a strategic town whose control was reclaimed by African Union-backed Somali troops a week ago. The joint forces freed dozens of children in the process.
News of the drone strike came hours after Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, more commonly known as Farmaajo, reached agreement late Thursday evening with three regional leaders on a new election model for the 2020-21 polls. The election is seen as crucial step for stabilizing the country and defeating the militants.
The agreement — reached in Dhusamareb, the capital of Galmudug state — came after a third round of talks. It was signed by Farmaajo and the heads of Galmudug, South West and Hirshabelle states, as well as by the governor of Banadir state.
The signatories agreed to form electoral constituency caucuses, with each caucus consisting of 301 delegates who will vote for a seat in parliament. The delegates will be nominated jointly by national and federal state electoral bodies. Parliamentarians, in turn, will elect the president.
"The leaders agreed that the independent National Electoral Commission, in collaboration with the state governments, facilitate the formation of an all-inclusive selection committee of elders and civil society from the seat-sharing community,” said a communique announcing the plan.
Jubaland and Puntland — two of Somalia’s five federal member states — are not part of the agreement.
Speaking at a ceremony Friday concluding six days of meetings, Farmaajo said,"We extend a brotherly hand to those who are yet to join us in our endeavor for fair and democratic elections.
"We have reached an electoral agreement with the leadership of federal member states and the Banadir region, which we hope will pave the way for free, fair, multiparty and timely elections,” the president said.
According to the agreement, the elections will take place among at least four constituencies in each regional state and will be held nationwide on the same day.
Somaliland, a self-declared breakaway state from mainland Somalia, will have an indirect election in which regional assemblies will elect members of the Upper House.
The agreement was reached amid international community pressure aimed at convincing political stakeholders to unite in the national interest and resolve their differences through consensus and compromise.
“We understand that there are strongly held divergent views among the leaders, and political tensions are high in this pre-electoral period,” said James Swan, special representative and head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM). Briefing the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, Swan added, “Yet, it is precisely during such moments that it is most necessary for the nation's leaders to engage in dialogue."
Also Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Somalia issued a strongly worded statement that "parties will need to move forward with [the] timely model agreed.”
It said the embassy had worked toward inclusion of all participants. The statement said: “Spoilers withholding participation sacrifice democracy for [their] own ambitions."
This report originated in VOA’s Somali service.